Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Making Memories

This last one was very special; even with fifteen other ‘magical happenings’ in the running.

Over the years, we’ve made it a point to have our two families come visit us in Palm Springs around either Thanksgiving or Christmas. ‘Making Memories’ is what we have whimsically called it. Turns out, it is much more than that.

The grandkids are getting older; so are Sharon and I. Time and generational draws are going to make it harder in the future to continue bringing the whole gang together like this. But while we can, the simple idea of gathering family together for these special occasions will be our main focus each year.

When we started this adventure, it was just the eldest, Maya, who was first of the grandchildren to venture out West. Following her came the twins; Spencer (Spence) and Samantha (Sammi) along with their cousin, Brennan. Two years later, chronologically but never age-wise, was the youngest, Charlotte. They’ve been coming out here for fifteen years and it just gets more interesting, exciting, adventurous and exhausting (at least for Papa) by the end of their western tour of Nana’s pool and other amenities we have to offer.

I’ve often said that if it ended today, it would have been worth it for the sheer memory-making planted in those young minds over the years. Neither Sharon nor I were fortunate enough to have grandparents alive (for me) or close enough (for Sharon) that they could be a part of our young lives.

We know from talking to some of our friends that those moments spent with attentive grand-parents are moments seldom forgotten and always cherished. We’ve been very fortunate to be in a position to give those experiences to our grandchildren.

Over the ensuring years, our grandchildren’s slate of adventures has covered a wide gambit of touring California’s hot and cold spots, climbing boulders and mountain trails, driving dune buggies and go-karts, acting in five scripted plays, horseback riding, touring in a covered wagon, swimming almost every day in Nana’s pool and so forth. Below are just some of their adventures over the years.

Like always, this year’s get-together ended on a note of deep appreciation, plentiful memories and a real reluctance to get back to ‘the real world.’ Sharon and I felt a deep sense of satisfaction that everyone had a good time and especially the grandkids had added to their memory bank of experiences.

As the cliché goes, it’s all about family. I never had the opportunities that our grandkids have had. Nor did Sharon. What a joy to be able to do that for those feisty, over-energetic, bright, ambitious young kids. The one’s I lovingly call our grandchildren.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

A Most Mysterious Creature

One of the many web sites I often visit is called ‘The Marginalian.’ It’s an eclectic newsletter written by a woman named Maria Popova. The site covers a wide variety of topics but all are centered around creativity in one form or another. Examples are: ‘John Steinbeck on how to think better,’ ‘the fascinating science of mushrooms and music,’ and ‘Jack Kerouac’s love letter to November.’

Recently the site reprinted an interview with and comments from David Bowie. While I’ve never been a fan of nor understood the music of David Bowie, his words on creativity struck a chord of interest with me. Below are a few of the comments made by this musical explorer.

Every creator’s creations are their coping mechanism for life — for the loneliness of being, for the longing for connection, for the dazzling incomprehension of what it all means. What we call art is simply a gesture toward some authentic answer to these open questions, at once universal and intimately felt — questions aimed at the elemental truths of being alive, animated by a craving for beauty, haunted by the need to find a way of bearing our mortality. Without this elemental longing, without this authentic gesture, what is made is not art but something else — the kind of commodified craftsmanship Virginia Woolf indicted when she weighed creativity against catering.’

One of the points made by Bowie that really resonated with me had to do with following one’s own path and not that of others. From the beginning, I’ve never had a normal 9 to 5 job or lifestyle. What finally emerged from that cauldron of early life experiences was a mishmash of interests, aspirations, explorations, failures, successes and ultimately a deep satisfaction with the path I’ve followed all my life. Bowie seemed to hit the nail on the head with his comments.

In consonance with E.E. Cummings’s splendid insistence that “the Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,” Bowie reflects:

Never play to the gallery… Always remember that the reason that you initially started working is that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations — they generally produce their worst work when they do that.

If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

Exactly what creativity is can be defined in a million different ways…as well as what it isn’t. To be clear, creativity is a separate journey for all who take it. I chose writing, Sharon has her art. Both are positive addictions in our lives.

And at this stage, it’s good to be moving and creating and enjoying whatever talent we might have.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Romance as an Oxymoron

If you ask a lot of women, they will tell you that for most men it’s a stumbling, clueless struggle to deal with feelings and emotions. You can call it being too concrete-sequential, too black and white or just plain clueless. For example, a lot of men still don’t understand that sex happens between her ears not…

Many women will tell you that most of us men are sincere but hopeless. We do have feelings if we can get in touch with them…which can be a challenge at times…often times. Women have an unfair advantage over men from that perspective.

I’ve often thought that a good definition of oxymoron is: “Denis as a romantic.

So why did I think I could write a romance novel or inject feelings and emotions into my plays and other forms of storytelling from a female perspective? Perhaps because I’m talking about somebody else; a fictional character that I can create, disassemble, rebuild, and manipulate in a multitude of ways.

In retrospect, I’ve come to realize that most of my novels and plays have a dual track. That wasn’t planning, it’s just the way my mind works. Even my westerns have two characters that found themselves drawn toward one another.  The same was true with ‘Love in the A Shau.’ A coming-of-age story with my perspective on love and affection. And commitment.

All but one of my female heroines were an amalgamation of the women I’ve known.

The only one who came the closest to my wife, Sharon, was Katherine (spelled with a K she will tell you) in my novel ‘Follow the Cobbler.’

Some writers have got it down pat in that very crowded Harlequin world of publishing. Nicolas Sparks has defied the odds. He’s a man writing romance novels and very successfully. The guy is a publisher’s perfect brand. A South Carolina guy with the beautiful wife, perfect children, his and hers Mercedes, and good-looking with charm. Throw in a love of God and the guy is Teflon.

My latest play to be produced in California ‘presented an interesting challenge. ‘Widow’s Waltz’ is a play about two older single gay men looking for love and the challenges they face because of their sexuality. As soon as some of our gay friends found out I was writing such a play, a few of them challenged me and asked: “So how is it that you think you can write such a play if you’re straight and married to the same woman for over fifty years?” My answer was simple and straight from the heart.

I answered: “Because love and loneliness are universal emotions that cross all borders, genders and sexual preferences.” In reality (and as I told the cast after the first table read: “This is a story about two human beings searching for love. The fact that they are both gay is just a nuance to the storyline.”

I got lucky a long time ago and found a teacher who has shown me the true meaning of love over the years. She’s spent a lifetime sharing that love with her children, grandchildren, and the close friends around us. That’s one area where I’m not clueless and can see the universality of her actions.

And as a writer I take great pride in my ability to steal moments, emotions, and intimacy I see all around me in order to seed them in the fertile soil of my story-telling. The emotions I deal with are universal. It doesn’t matter who has them and I’m only the storyteller. With a very good teacher to boot.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Urban I'm Not

I was born and raised in the city of Saint Paul but couldn’t wait to ‘get out of Dodge’ after my discharge from the Army. Old Saint Paul was no place for me or my future. I wanted my space and eventually got it. Yet, surprisingly along the way, I developed a strong interest in urban living, the sprawling suburbs and that place we all call ‘our home.’

Fast forward 50 years and my grandchildren are growing up just five blocks from where I was raised and I love going back into the city to see them. Despite the fact that I’ve spent the bulk of my life in the suburbs, city living still intrigues me. We’ve only owned two homes in our fifty-one years of togetherness, both in the suburbs. The first was a tiny (built on a slab) rambler in Reisterstown, Maryland near my work.

Our second home, where we still live today, is a tract rambler built around 1968 in a third ring suburb called Apple Valley. A little after we moved back to Minnesota, Time Magazine declared that ‘Minnesota was a great place to live.’ I couldn’t agree more.

Despite spending the bulk of my life in the suburbs, I’ve always been interested in real estate from an urban perspective.

Most of my real estate investments were in an urban setting. Owning a couple of apartment buildings in the city made me acutely aware of the policies, procedures, restrictions, and lifestyle choices of my tenants. Over the years I’ve gravitated toward books on architecture, housing, city-living and suburban sprawl.

Now with my favorite source of reading material (Better World Books), I’ve been reading a lot of books about the multitude of changes happening in cities nationwide and worldwide.

Selling the suburbs is nothing new. Back around the turn of the century, major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston were advertising outlying townships away from the grim and chaos of the city. California was one of the first to paint this beatific picture of suburban living.

Over time, that attitude of suburban tranquility has gradually changed and a new attitude of better living in the city has emerged. The literature followed.

Palm Springs has been following the trend of many medium-size communities in re-imagining its downtown core. Over the last several years, new retail, commercial, dining and hospitality spots have sprung up and flourished downtown.

A new central business district in Apple Valley is following much the same trend in reshaping the suburb of old into something more pedestrian friendly and upping its talk-ability features.

This propensity for creating a downtown core is nothing new for the suburbs. While trying to replicate a real downtown is a challenge, the idea of a central gathering spot for its residents is an admirable goal to strive toward.

In a real sense, I’ve got the best of both worlds. I live in the suburbs but can still enjoy city-living and all the amenities that the city has to offer.